Pulling Back the Curtain: Revealing Privacy in the Twenty-First Century
Over the course of this semester, we have explored various themes of science and speculative fiction that relate back to issues and ideas present in the twenty-first century. In many ways, it is precisely the element of fiction that allows audiences to relate it to real life; sometimes a degree of alien allows for a better glimpse into humanity. However, the same can be done with works of non-fiction. “The Living Room,” a podcast by Love and Radio, is a narration by a woman named Diane, as she retells the events she witnessed from her living room window in her New York City apartment. She tells a story of love, mortality, and empathy but it is also a story that raises a question of privacy. As Diane observes the lives of her neighbors, she becomes invested in their love and their hardships, in very much the same way that audiences grow attached to celebrities. In a society where so much of an individual’s private life can be broadcasted through social media and reality television, “The Living Room” explores the blurred line between public and private and questions the relationship of “viewers” all within the context of a very real story.
Diane describes the curtain-less window through which she observes her neighbors as being like a movie screen. By producing this imagery so early on in the podcast, there is an immediate expectation on the audience’s part that there will be some sort of story taking place one the other side of that pane glass. During our facilitation, we discussed whether Diane had invaded the couple’s privacy by watching their everyday activities, and to a degree, she was. Like she said, she did not need to get the binoculars. However, by neglecting to install any form of blinds or curtains, the young couple were ultimately inviting not just Diane, but anyone else who could look into their apartment bedroom. This conscious action is similar to posting personal life events on forms of social media.
Had the couple been posting live updates about the progression of the young man’s illness, his fight would have most likely been followed, shared, liked, and commented on by friends and family, but also people that he was only familiar with, maybe didn’t even know personally. That virtual curtain that separated the reality from the viewers gives them insight into what is going on, but also the liberty to reach out. However, in Diane’s case, she was witnessing, first hand the events taking place in that bedroom, she was the “third person in the room,” and yet she did not share the liberties as people on the Internet. Because she was an outsider, a “follower” in reality, she was not in a place where she could walk up to the young woman and offer her sympathy.
Diane had become so thoroughly invested in the lives of this couple, particularly the young woman, quite similar to how people become attached to reality TV stars or social media celebrities. We, humans as a collective in twenty-first century society, have a tendency to find entertainment in being witness to the lives of others. By watching everyday activities, the human element is brought back to these people who may be considered to live on a different plan socially. Of course, the young couple in the New York City apartment cannot entirely be compared to reality stars; they did not, after all, invite camera crews into their home. However, that is, in a way, what they became to Diane. Her reaction to and investment in their lives is not much different to how fans behave toward their favorite celebrities.
“The Living Room” shows this blurred line that can form between reality and fiction, public and private. As we post more on social media, we present a perceived private life that is no doubt covered in a thin coating of fiction. What Diane is laying witness to are those parts that would be left out, kept behind closed doors, however to her it is still a story. She remained far enough away to remind herself that she could not get involved, but had already grown attached to the woman she was watching; very much like s reader growing attached to a particular character. This breaking down of the public and private sphere, while raising questions about the liberties of witnessing, manages to show through its dialogue the presence of stories within twenty-first century society.
“The Living Room”, from Love and Radio, Radio Lab, https://soundcloud.com/loveandradio/the-living-room.